PHOENIX >> A judge will hold a hearing Thursday to discuss whether he should have a prosecutor investigate if Sheriff Joe Arpaio should be charged with contempt of court for repeatedly disregarding orders in a racial-profiling case that has dogged the lawman for several years.
Arpaio could face punishment ranging from daily fines to jail time if he is found to be in contempt. Still, a racial profiling expert said he wouldn’t expect the judge to jail Arpaio and instead would probably gradually ramp up the severity of his punishments if the sheriff continued to defy the judge.
"I don’t think that’s very likely, simply because he is an elected official," David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies racial profiling, said of the possibility of jail time.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow has grown frustrated over what he said were inadequate internal investigations into wrongdoing by Arpaio’s immigrant smuggling squad, including whether a deputy was shaking down immigrants who were in the country illegally. In addition, the judge is upset over a botched effort by the sheriff’s office to recover videos of traffic stops that were withheld in the profiling case.
Eighteen months ago, the judge found the sheriff’s office had systematically singled out Latinos in regular traffic and special immigration patrols. Snow is requiring Arpaio’s officers to video-record traffic stops, collect data on stops and undergo training to ensure they are making constitutional stops.
Arpaio vigorously denies that his officers have racially profiled people and has appealed part of the decision. Lawyers made arguments Wednesday in San Francisco before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over Arpaio’s appeal.
Snow said Arpaio’s office may be using its internal affairs investigation process to conceal widespread misconduct at the agency. He has said he is willing to call officers into court to answer questions under oath.
The judge ordered a federal prosecutor who can conduct contempt proceedings to appear at Thursday’s hearing.
It’s unknown whether Arpaio will attend the hearing. He isn’t required to do so.
The sheriff’s office declined to comment about contempt proceedings, as did Cecillia Wang, one of the attorneys who pressed the profiling case against Arpaio.
Lawyers in the case also will offer input Thursday over Snow’s decision to have a court-appointed official investigate allegations of wrongdoing by officers if the sheriff’s office doesn’t adequately investigate.
Snow has told Robert Warshaw, who is monitoring the agency on the judge’s behalf, to investigate the agency’s violation of a December 2011 pretrial ruling that barred Arpaio’s deputies from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they’re in the country illegally.
The agency’s lawyer said sheriff’s officials didn’t tell rank-and-file members of Arpaio’s smuggling squad about the order.
The sheriff’s office has examined shakedown allegations against former Deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz, who was arrested in May after investigators found IDs and items belonging to others and bags of evidence at his home.
Armendariz implicated former colleagues on Arpaio’s immigrant smuggling squad, quit his job and later killed himself. He is relevant to the profiling case because he was a witness at the case’s 2012 trial and videos of his traffic stops were discovered after his arrest.
Warshaw also leveled sharp criticism at the agency for the investigation of another former smuggling squad member who had alleged that his colleagues had pocketed items from raids at safe houses and kept them for personal use or for use by the sheriff’s office.
The court monitor said those allegations led to a criminal investigation in which a sheriff’s investigator posed a narrow set of questions and failed to act on leads developed during the interviews.